Home  »  Afghanistan  »  “At Risk By Endemic Failures”: Secret Report Reveals British Government Is Harming The Afghan Mission

Aug 23, 2009 Comments Off Pat Dollard

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Times Online:

Dossier suppressed by ministers has revealed soldiers’ lives are put at risk by ‘endemic’ failures at Ministry of Defence

A devastating official report suppressed by ministers has revealed that soldiers’ lives are being put at risk by “endemic” failures at the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

The secret dossier blames “political fudge” and Whitehall incompetence for the plight of soldiers in Afghanistan who are provided with inadequate frontline kit.

The 296-page report, leaked to The Sunday Times, claims the scale of MoD bungling is so severe it “is harming our ability . . . to conduct difficult current operations”.

The publication of the document will be a severe embarrassment for Gordon Brown, who has insisted that the armed forces always receive the equipment they need.

Today’s projects, the report says, are over budget by £35 billion and arrive five years later than expected.

The author of the report, Bernard Gray, a leading businessman and former special adviser to Labour defence ministers, writes: “How can it be that it takes 20 years to buy a ship, or aircraft, or tank?

“Why does it always seem to cost at least twice what was thought?

“Even worse, at the end of the wait, why does it never quite seem to do what it was supposed to?”

He says the MoD department in charge of procurement is so incompetent that it should be privatised.

The report was commissioned by John Hutton, who resigned as defence secretary in June, and was due to have been published last month. However, Hutton’s successor Bob Ainsworth, backed by the prime minister, decided to bury it after ministers were plunged into a damaging row with General Sir Richard Dannatt, the recently retired army chief, over equipment shortages.

Dannatt claimed that a lack of helicopters and other kit had restricted operations in Afghanistan, where the British death toll has now reached 206.

The Gray dossier says that nimble enemies such as the Taliban “are unlikely to wait for our sclerotic acquisition systems to catch up”.

His criticisms are all the more devastating for their plain language, rather than the usual serpentine civil service euphemisms.

“The problems, and the sums of money involved, have almost lost their power to shock, so endemic is the issue,” writes Gray. “It seems as though military equipment acquisition is vying in a technological race with the delivery of civilian software systems for the title of ‘world’s most delayed technical solution’. Even British trains cannot compete.”

Gray argues that the MoD has a “substantially overheated equipment programme, with too many types of equipment being ordered for too large a range of tasks at too high a specification”.

He concludes that in the long term “the programme is unaffordable on any likely projection of future budgets”.

He accuses Labour politicians of failing to make the necessary “difficult choices” on defence spending and of overestimating the limited capabilities of British forces.

Gray calls for legislation forcing defence ministers to hold full-scale defence reviews every four or five years and criticises Labour ministers for their failure to hold a strategic defence review since 1998.

“In corporate life, no enterprise would persist with a 12-year-old strategy without at least reevaluating it fully on a regular basis,” he writes. “Few who would expect to prosper would even try to do so.”

He also warns that delays in shipbuilding programmes have meant that over the past 20 years the UK might have been unable to fight a Falklands-style conflict.

“We would have risked significant casualties, the very Continued on page 2 Continued from page 1 significant costs of acquiring adequate equipment at short notice (if available) or the embarrassment of not fighting at all.”

Gray acknowledges that his proposals will be seen as controversial and predicts the defence establishment may try to sit on his findings. “Vested interests will not welcome these changes and may seek to undermine them,” he writes.

Liam Fox, the shadow defence secretary, said: “Labour has created a defence black hole which is not only impacting on current operations in Afghanistan but threatens to provide an ongoing defence crisis for years to come.

“On top of this, this government of fear and smear refuses to publish an important and distinguished piece of work, simply because it points out the serial incompetence of Labour on defence. This report must be published in full.” A spokesman for the MoD said: “John Hutton commissioned a review on acquisition reform from Bernard Gray because we want to ensure that we are buying equipment as efficiently as possible.

“This report is currently in draft format and we are working hard with him on the issues he has identified.”